Connecting for Health director general Richard Granger has sharply rebuked critics of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT), saying a funding withdrawal would lead to "massive disruption" for patients.
Granger who has led NPfIT for the last four and a half years, said: "The programme gets continuously knocked. I don't think that will stop probably for another five years, and then the obituary on the programme will be 'Well why was it so difficult? Why didn't it get done more quickly?' and maybe the answer to that is: if there'd been a bit less whining and more support, it might have done."
The NHS IT chief left immediately after his keynote speech at a healthcare and government procurement trade show and did not address the latest crisis involving NPfIT software supplier iSoft.
The company is charged with delivering its Lorenzo care records system for lead contractor CSC in three out of five NPfIT regions.
Troubled iSoft, which has run into accounting and management problems, recently reached a buyout deal with Australian software firm IBA. But CSC blocked the deal, saying it would not help delivery of the patient care records system.
The two companies remain in discussions, but the conflict reinforced concerns about the ability of suppliers to deliver products and meet deadlines. Some of NPfIT’s more extreme critics have called for a withdrawal of funding for the IT programme.
Earlier this month, Connecting for Health deniedthat Granger had intervened to bring the two firms together.
In his speech, Granger made no mention of this, but he did acknowledge some NPfIT deployment problems, in part caused because each hospital conducts operations differently and requires different IT configurations.
He also said there had been problems integrating the 10,000 or so pharmacies into the Electronic Prescription Service, which uses the XML (Extensible Markup Language) format, HL7. So far, 17 or 18 different systems are used within the pharmacies to accept prescription messages from the NHS's core network.
Work on the prescription service had been slow, and resistance to change had been high, Granger said.
"We have found it interesting how appalling and how slow some of the big corporates, FTSE 100 corporates, have been at getting their software to be HL7 message compliant," Granger said.
"I might almost imagine they are not welcoming with open arms the challenge to their bricks-and-mortar business model."
But he cited statistics that indicate some success. During his presentation, which lasted about 20 minutes, Granger said 2,250 appointments had been booked using electronic systems and 17,250 prescriptions transmitted electronically, 168,950 digital images related to patient care had been recorded and 37,500 secure emails containing patient clinical data had been sent.
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